GOODYEAR – Football is family. The NFL once ran a campaign using that very theme.
Nowhere is that sentiment more true than at Desert Edge High School, where twin brothers Mark and Marcus Carter are co-head coaches of the football program.
“I haven’t seen it before,” said Keith Jennings, Desert Edge’s assistant offensive coordinator. But while they are two separate people, the Carters’ football minds are almost identical.
“You could tell each one of them has their own way of doing things,” Jennings said. “You can tell that they bounce a lot of ideas off of each other, and you can tell that they know what buttons to push on one another. These guys make it work.”
Growing up in San Jose, California, the Carter twins were inseparable. They played both football and basketball together at Piedmont Hills High School, then played basketball at Butte College in Oroville, California. After college, they were unsure of their next step.
One day, they saw an advertisement for local youth football sign-ups. They asked if they could coach. They were told that they would not be paid, but it didn’t matter to them. The Carters had their first coaching job together.
After coaching together in California for a short time, Mark made his way to Ariziona, landing a job on the coaching staff at Cactus High School. Marcus decided to stay in California.
In their 40 years, this was the only time the Carter twins would be separated.
After about a year, they started discussing ways they could reunite. The only problem was that neither wanted to relocate. They opted for a simple bet to decide that matter.
The coach of the team with the worse finish would lose. Marcus’ high school team went to California’s semifinals. Mark’s Cactus team went undefeated at 14-0 and won the state championship. Marcus soon moved to Arizona.
In 2010, the twins moved to Georgia, where they took on assistant roles at Kennesaw Mountain High School. They were still looking for their first head coaching gig together, however. While in Georgia, the two began an extensive coaching search that spanned the country.
“And I think, you know, we probably sent out about 50 to 60 to 100 applications trying to get a job,” Mark said. “And then you know, out of those 50 to 60 applications, there were 20 interviews. And those 20 interviews, we ended up top two in like, 10 of those interviews. So it is just getting real close, and real close, real close.”
It was important to them that they did it together, just as they had done most everything since their births.
“Representing our family, representing the Carter last name is huge to us. And doing it together, I know it makes our family really proud,” Mark said.
The Carter family remains close, as Mark and Marcus live within minutes of each other in the Valley.
“Our kids are growing up together,” Mark said. “The only reason they’re not brothers and sisters is because they don’t come from the same parents.”
Eventually, the brothers got their opportunity at Coronado High School in Scottsdale, where they were offered the program’s co-head coaching slots. While in the process of moving, however, they said they were informed that the school had pulled the offer due to a “clerical error.”
“And so now here we are moving our whole lives back (to Arizona), you know, on a pretense to something else,” Mark said.
They landed at Central High School as assistant coaches, and after a few seasons they finally got the head coaching spots they were looking for at South Mountain High School.
It was a long road to get there, but the Carters were excited to have the opportunity to lead a program together.
“We went hard because we got shut down and shut down and shut down, shut down,” Mark said. “And as competitors, and as brothers and the way we were raised, you know, we’re gonna go hard. If you knock us down, we’ll get right back up and go harder at you.”
South Mountain improved every season under the Carters’ leadership, finishing 7-3 in 2019.
After that season, the twins decided to take the co-head coaching jobs at Desert Edge.
Marcus said leaving South Mountain was one of the hardest decisions of their lives.
“For the first time in 15 years, we had to make a decision based on how we felt and not about the people that we were serving,” Marcus said.
In their first season at Desert Edge in 2020, the Carters led the Scorpions to an 8-1 record in the AIA Open Division, reportedly becoming the first African American coaches to coach in the Open Division. The Scorpions take a 5-2 record into tonight’s game at Peoria’s Sunrise Mountain High School.
While they have plenty of success on the football field, both Mark and Marcus also take pride in their work as educators on campus, where they take a similar approach with their students as they do with their athletes.
At South Mountain, Marcus helped develop a program with Arizona State that combined STEM curriculum with education on sexism, racism, gender equality and other issues outside of the classroom. He now teaches business marketing.
Mark teaches the Rise Lab at Desert Edge, which helps students earn their way out of credit deficiencies, get them back on track and, in some cases, get them into accelerated courses.
Seeing students get back on track, especially seniors who were able to graduate because of it, “did something” for Mark, who said he finds it very rewarding.
The Carters have discovered a special value in teaching and impacting the lives of students, whether on the field or in the classroom.
“If you can capture a student’s heart – a teacher that taught you one day that captured your heart – you were locked in, you were focused, you wanted to go to their class, you were engaged, you wanted to do things you wanted to be better for that teacher. That’s how I want my students to be with me,” Marcus said.
Going beyond the textbooks and discussions, they even give students rides home and do other things to help them outside of school.
“I was hungry one day, and your dad drove me to McDonald’s and got me food. I needed some clothes one day, and your dad went in his closet and got this,” Mark said. “So what are they gonna say about me to my son when I’m gone or if I’m not there? And that’s the biggest thing for us as far as our legacy is concerned.”
The family dynamic is certainly alive and well in the Carter family, and they will continue to make sure that translates into their career and into their teachings, both on and off the field.